At the start of September, I attended New Zealand Fashion Week for the first time. Apparel retailers make up a significant portion of NZ Retail’s readership, but we’ve been careful to focus on business fundamentals rather than the glitz and glamour of their customer-facing operations. At NZFW, however, I wanted to see it all – the music, colour, dancers, showers of glitter.
Why? Well, a runway show is a fabulous spectacle. And in the age of Amazon, solid business practices will only get you so far. Product and price are still vital, but retailers also need to capture customers’ imaginations with theatre and excitement. Fabulous spectacles aren’t just fun – they matter.
The aspect of runway shows that’s most critically relevant to this point is their immediacy. Shopping is all about assessing the product: researchers talk about luxury consumers seeking product that embodies a high level of utility, or will indicate high status to others, so they’ll assess each product and brand for its ability to deliver one or both of these outcomes.
Viewing a garment on the catwalk is another kind of assessment. A runway show is shorthand for a brand experience. Culturally, any kind of retail shop is a blunt instrument – the very essence of it is accessibility, so complex messages get diluted for maximum impact across a broad range of consumers. Retailers known for strong messaging include The Body Shop, which has built a reputation on its social responsibility; and The Warehouse Group, which has used its visibility as a significant employer and provider of consistently attainable value goods to weave its brand into the fabric of New Zealand communities.
However, retailers without a clear identity risk fading into the background in the face of stronger offers from better-resourced competitors.
Runway shows are a chance for designers – many of whom are also retailers - to articulate complex messages about their brand identity. For the duration of the show, they have a captive audience. The audience isn’t buying anything immediately, but they’re focused on what the designer has to say, and that sustained attention allows the designer to say something more compelling than “We’ve got the products you want at a price you can afford”.
That “something more” is what will capture shoppers’ hearts and minds, motivating them to consciously choose to support particular designers or retailers over more-competitive but less emotionally appealing rivals.
At NZFW, Ovna Ovich asked her audience to consider the footprint of their fashion choices when she sent models walking barefoot down a paint-spattered runway.
In her Blade Runner-inspired ‘Electric Dreams’ show, Kate Sylvester said: “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe, attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion; I watched c-beams glitter in the dark, near the Tannhäuser gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain…”
If you could capture a shopper’s sustained attention, what would you say?
This story originally appeared in NZ Retail magazine issue 752 October/November 2017